Now these were the people of the province who came up out of the captivity of those exiles whom Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon had carried captive to Babylonia. They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town. They came with Zerubbabel, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Seraiah, Reelaiah, Mordecai, Bilshan, Mispar, Bigvai, Rehum, and Baanah. The number of the men of the people of Israel: the sons of Parosh, 2,172. The sons of Shephatiah, 372. The sons of Arah, 775. (Ezra 2:1-5)
This was part of my devotional reading this morning. And it went on: 67 verses of names and numbers, including stats on livestock. The Bible has all kinds of stuff like this: genealogies, census counts, lists of supplies and builders for the temple, etc. Why does this matter?
It matters because it’s a reminder that the Bible is not just a storybook, and our religion isn’t just a bunch of stories. When we read the Bible we’re not reading fairy tales or myths that were made up to explain how things are. We’re reading actual history– stories of how God intervened in human history, how he interacted with real people in their real world. In about the year 458 BC he brought 42,360 people out of Persia back into Jerusalem to rebuild the temple by moving the heart of a king, Cyrus, to issue a decree in their favor. This is the same God who became flesh, who was born to a poor woman during a census– “the first census taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria.” He is just as real as the things we look around and see– more real, if possible. And he doesn’t leave us alone, or leave a huge gap between us and him, between earth and heaven. He bridges the gap time and time again so that we can be his people– people of a real, actual, historically-relevant God.